History In Her Words: A Year of Reading Women’s Voices




It’s September, time again for a new year of reading for my Rediscovering the Classics book group! Our theme this year is History In Her Words: Women’s Voices, and we have a great syllabus. We take a journey back in time and look at some of the major events and eras of history through women’s eyes and writing. The books are in chronological order taking us from Ancient Greece to the modern era, and with stories from all over the world. We dip into drama, memoir, non-fiction, and novels. (Note: The very first book, the play Medea by Euripides, is not by a woman, but it does tell a very compelling woman’s story, so I included it as our BCE selection.)

Happy Reading!

A Divider

History In Her Words: Women’s Voices
Rediscovering the Classics, 2015-2016

September 25: Medea by Euripides (dramatic play, 431 BCE)

October 9 and 23: Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman (non-fiction history, p. 2004, covers middle ages through modern era)

November 6 and 20: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill (fiction, p. 1854)

December 4: Beloved by Toni Morrison (fiction, p. 1987, covers civil war era and after)

December 18: *Holiday Party and Book Exchange!* Bring food & a gently used book to exchange. To Discuss: Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman, “The Joy of Sesquipedalians,” “Never Do That to a Book,” “Words on a Flyleaf,” “My Ancestral Castles,” “Secondhand Prose” (essays, p. 1998)

January 8: Little Women, Part 1 by Louisa May Alcott (fiction, p. 1868)

January 22: Little Women, Part 2, “Good Wives”  by Louisa May Alcott (fiction, p. 1869)

February 12 and 26: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (fiction, p. 1982, covers 1910 to 1970s)

March 11 and 25: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (fiction, p. 1989, covers WWII to 1980s)

April 8 and 22: Résistance, A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France by Agnès Humbert (memoir, p. 1946, 2004)

May 13: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel memoir, p. 2001, translation 2003, covers 1980 to 1994)

May 27: Persepolis, ALSO Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (memoir, p. 2003)


“A word after a word after a word is power.” -Margaret Atwood


The Year of Women (Authors)! #ReadWomen2014

Votes for Women

2014 is the Year of Women! Well, it’s the year of the women authors, anyway. And it’s about time! Women authors dominated the “Best of 2013” lists, and from the looks of things we have plenty more to look forward to in 2014.

According to a recent article in TIME Magazine, “Women read more books than men do… the 76% of American adults who read a book in 2013 — in e-book, audio or print formats — could be broken down to 82% of women and a mere 69% of men.” In spite of this, the major media outlets still publish far more reviews of books by male authors than female authors. The Guardian reported that “New York Review of Books, for example, in 2012 16% of reviewers were women, with 22% of the books reviewed written by women. A similar investigation in the Guardian found that the UK is no better: in March 2013, 8.7% of books reviewed in the London Review of Books were by women, rising to 26.1% in the New Statesmen, and 34.1% in the Guardian.”

Well, this year that changes—We hope. It all started with Joanna Walsh, a writer and illustrator who vowed to read only women in 2014, and designed New Year’s cards (bookmarks) to go along with her vow. Walsh’s bookmarks listed women writers on the backs, which she said she hoped might inspire recipients “if not vow to read women exclusively, look up some of the writers I’ve drawn on the front or listed on the back.” Many news outlets have followed Joanna’s lead by either vowing to read/review only (or at least more) women authors this year, or by publishing their own lists of women writers to read in 2014.

Not one to be left behind, I have my own list of women authors to read. In fact, my syllabus for this year’s Rediscovering the Classics reading group focused on an exploration of genre, featuring solely women authors. Here are the books our literary group has vowed to read this year:

  • An Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • My Life in France by Julia CHild
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy
  • The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Furthermore, while I did not set out to purposefully read only women last year or this year, my list of Best Books of 2013 was all women, and my reading list thus far for 2014 has included Donna Tartt, Karen Joy Fowler, Jo Baker, Brenna Yovanoff, and Lisa O’Donnell. My TBR list includes many, many more fantastic women authors.

So how about YOU? Will you participate in the #ReadWomen2014 movement? As Daniel E. Pritchard writes in The Critical Flame, “nothing will change if people do not act morally within their sphere of control.” Do you plan to read for equality, or will you simply further the status quo? There are SO many funny, serious, adventurous, thrilling, forthright, satirical, political, etc. women authors out there, that there is absolutely no excuse for ANY person’s reading list to not be at least 50/50 men/women. No excuse, that is, except laziness or sexism.

What’s on YOUR reading list?

What to Read With What You Eat: Holiday Cookie and Book Pairings

Books n Cookies

The holidays are a time for baking and eating, of course, but if you’re a bookworm the holidays are also a time for reading. (Let’s face it, if you’re a bookworm EVERY time is a time for reading!) And what could be better than putting great food together with great books! This Yuletide season my two daughters and I decided to pair cookies with some of our favorite books. (Although the kids made the cookies, the Stephen King and non-fiction pairings are mine. They haven’t had the disturbing pleasure of reading either of those books yet.)


Let’s start with the classics. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Scottish shortbread. A book and cookie that are absolutely essential to the holiday season:

Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

DividerMy youngest loves Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and don’t these cookies make you think of falling down the rabbit hole?

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from...

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from…

DividerA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (and when you have a creative 13 year old around, a tree grows in our kitchen as well).

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith's classic coming-of-age novel.

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith’s classic coming-of-age novel.

DividerChocolate peanut butter bars with Gregory Maguire’s Wicked—I think this pairing speaks for itself.

These homemade chocolate peanut butter cups really are Wicked!

These homemade chocolate peanut butter bars really are Wicked!

DividerSomething about these adorable melting snowmen made me think of Stephen King’s Different Seasons… horrifying, but irresistible!

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

DividerAnd for the adult readers… Peppermint bark brownies with Pamela Druckerman’s Lust In Translation.

Peppermint Bark

Sinfully delicious

To see where many of these (and more!) tantalizing holiday treats came from, visit my boards on Pinterest.

May your holidays be filled with sweet treats and tasty books!

Best Books of 2013 and Books to Read in 2014

Best of 2013

Listen carefully… Do you hear that…? It’s the sound of pages turning.

I have a love/hate relationship with the “Best Of” Books lists that come out this time of year. I love that I get to see the literary year in review, but I hate that there are so many books I somehow missed during the course of the year. I love it when one or two of my personal favorites ends up on the lists, but I hate that so many of the “Best” authors are the same names we see every year… Often men, often writing about middle-aged male concerns. This year I was very pleased to see a bit of a shift away from that trend. This year I saw a lot of new authors on the “Best Of” lists, and a lot of women authors. Hooray!

Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and share my own lists. So if you will indulge me (and please keep in mind that one or two on these lists are from 2012, but because I read them in 2013 I’m including them here)…

My “Best Of” List

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Other Notables

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

You can see where my head was for much of the year–ALL of my “Best Of” list are written by women, and more than half of my “Notables” list. Was there not much great fiction by men this year, or was I simply in a place in my life where I was more attracted to the writing of women? I’m not sure. But as you can see from the paragraphs below, I intend to do some research into the matter…

A side-effect of the “Best Books Lists” time of year is that they serve to remind me of all the great books I haven‘t gotten around to reading. Inevitably (and purposefully, I’m sure) a large portion of the “Best Books of 2013” lists become the beginning of my “TBR in 2014” list.

Bkwurm’s To Be Read in 2014 (in no particular order)*

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
  • Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker
  • Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • Drinking With Men: A Memoir by Rosie Schaap
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I’m sure there are plenty of other GREAT books from 2013 that I’ve missed. Please comment and let me know what other books I should add to my list. What were YOUR favorites of 2013? Let’s all get reading!


*If you need some ideas for your own TBR list, my list above was influenced by:

The 10 Book Facebook Challenge


The challenge (first found on Facebook): To list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.

These are my 10, including the reason why they have stuck with me for so long. What are one or two of your significant life-books? Please share in the comments below.

1. The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs – This was the first chapter book I remember borrowing from the public library. I quickly read ALL the John Bellairs books I could find after this first one.


2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Anne was the first character I absolutely fell in love with. I still read “the Anne books” every few years and fall in love with her all over again.

Anne of Green Gables

3. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood – This is a book every female over the age of 16 should read. Powerful, frightening, a cautionary tale. You will never be the same.


4. School Girls by Peggy Orenstein – I first read this when I was 19, long before I had daughters, but even then it made an impact. This is a book every parent and teacher should read–every adolescent girl and boy too, actually!


5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – It was these books that have had perhaps the most influence on my spiritual path… Although I’m Pagan, so perhaps not what C.S. Lewis had in mind.


6. Bullfinch’s Mythology – The only book I would need if ever stranded on a desert island.

Bullfinchs Mythology

7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – The first book I remember having read TO me when I was a kid. It’s still the end-all be-all of read-aloud adventure stories for me.

The Hobbit

8. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, second edition – 95% of my favorite poetry all in one place. This book is my tattered, falling apart security blanket. I take it with me everywhere.

Norton Poetry

9. Possession by A.S. Byatt – Proof positive that a book can be academic and intelligent and still suck you in completely.


10. Persuasion by Jane Austen – I’ve never been able to choose which Jane Austen novel is my favorite, but this one contains one of the very best paragraphs ever written by human hand:

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it… Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. For you alone, I think and plan.”


Birthday Indulgences: Books and Cupcakes!

Today is my birthday, which means I get to spend the day doing the things I love most!

Tree Grows In BrooklynThe first, of course, is read, and I plan to treat myself with a nice two or three hours at the library with Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the very best coming-of-age books ever. It’s no surprise that I love this story about a girl who falls hard for books, who uses her love of words to rise above her heartbreaking (although not altogether unloving) circumstances and make something of herself. It’s a beautiful story that is beautifully written… And it’s no coincidence that I assigned it to my Rediscovering the Classics book class during my birthday month!

The second thing I get to spend hours doing today is a newly discovered love of mine: Elaborate Food. My birthday choice this year was Teacup Cupcakes, made in the beautiful china teacups inherited from my grandmother. I know this is a bkwurm blog, and cupcakes have nothing to do with books except as a tasty treat to keep up your energy for reading, but scroll down for a feast for the eyes (and the all-too-easy directions for making it)!

Teacup Cupcakes

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.


I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.

I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.


Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn't burn.

Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn’t burn.


The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious--fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!

The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious–fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!


Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to...

Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to…


...Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.

…Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.


Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.

Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.


Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!

Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!


These were beautiful, delicious, and so much fun to make! Plus, something about being made IN the teacup makes it seem like a very literary dessert.

Follow me on Pinterest for more book AND food related content!






Exploring Genre Literature with 10 Great Women Authors

We are in for a fast, furious and FUN year in the Rediscovering the Classics group this year! Last year the theme was “An Exploration of Genre”, and when I realized that the syllabus I was putting together was 90% male authors I decided to go all-out with all-male authors in each genre. What this means is that this year we get a syllabus full of wonderful WOMEN authors in every genre!

This year’s syllabus is unique not only because it’s all women, but also because each book was written comparatively recently. (All of the books on the list were published after 1900.) While I could have chosen the very ancient and revered The Tale of Genji or the poetry of Sappho to put on the list, I felt that, for the most part, the female experience–and especially the female experience in the world of publishing–was more accurately represented by the more modern novels listed below. (Yes, there are plenty of women writing before 1900 whose work accurately represent the female experience, but we’ve read many of them in previous years, and also, at the end of the day I had to choose. This is what you get.)

I hope this will be a dynamic and fun year, with brisk opinions and warm conversation! And I especially hope that the books below will inspire you to read more from these (and other) authors in each genre!

Let me know in the comments what books or authors YOU think represent the essence of the female experience in each of these genres. And if you’d like to read along with us and join in the discussion, check out Rediscovering the Classics on Facebook.

 An Exploration of Genre Part 2: Female Authors 
Rediscovering the Classics 2013-2014 Syllabus 

October 11th: MysticalAn Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, (p. 1922, Australian)
October 25th: HorrorThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (p. 1959, American)
November 8th and 22nd: BiographyMy Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud’homme) (p. 2006, American)
December 6th and 20th: Bildungsroman (Coming of Age) – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (p. 1943, American)
January 10th: EpicOrlando by Virginia Woolf (p. 1928, British)
January 24th: AdventureThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy (p. 1903, Hungarian)
February 7th and 21st: RomanceThe Buccaneers by Edith Wharton (p. 1938, American)
March 14th and 28th: Science FictionKindred by Octavia Butler (p. 1979, African American)
April 11th: PostmodernWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (p. 1966, Dominican-European)
May 9th and 23rd: Children’s LiteratureThe Secret Garden by Fraces Hodgson Burnett (p. 1910, serial format, Britsh-American)

How To Spot A Book Lover

Book Lovers are dangerous people. Avid readers are like rabid creatures—we can’t see straight (usually because we have a book in front of our faces), we can’t walk straight (same reason), and we often drool or foam at the mouth (when a Really Good Part overpowers our swallow reflex). Luckily, keeping away from the book-toting-crazy-eyes should be easy… as long as you know what to look for.

It’s not difficult to spot a book lover, we avid readers give ourselves away in so many ways:

You can find us at parties perusing the bookshelves instead of hanging with the crowd.

Our go-to conversation starter is “So, what are you reading?” 

We bring books with us to the bank and supermarket (anywhere we might have to wait in line).

We don’t think of trees as beautiful things to photograph, draw, or even climb… they’re merely another place to sit and read for a spell. 

We don’t just walk, we biblioambulate.

We NEVER have enough bookshelves.

We wear T-shirts that say things like “Call me Ishmael”.

Keep in mind that Book Lovers are VERY DANGEROUS CREATURES. Be warned! Should you spot a Book Lover, generally the safest thing to do is to put as much distance between them and yourself as possible.


For today, and for today only, because it is National Book Lovers Day, should you come across a Book Lover, you should go up to them, ask them what they’re reading, ask if they can recommend any books for you to read, and watch their faces light up with joy. You will have made their day.

Happy Book Lovers Day!!

Three Smart Writers Who Will Knock Your Socks Off

I love Smart Writers.

Now, when I say “Smart Writers” I don’t mean stuffy academic writers (although let’s tell it like it is, I like reading them too). When I say “Smart Writers” I mean authors who write books that express new and thought-provoking ideas with beautiful, playful, intelligent language. When I say “Smart Writers” I mean writers that I want to pluck off the page and bring home for coffee and conversation. I’m talking about writers who inspire and challenge me, and who make me laugh.

Right now I’m reading Simon Pegg’s autobiography Nerd Do Well; and I tell you, that man is a Smart Writer.
You may know Simon Pegg from such films as the new Star Trek (he plays Scotty), Shaun of the Dead (Shaun), and Mission Impossible (Benji Dunn), among others. He’s a great actor, I love his stuff, but I didn’t truly appreciate just how cool he was until I started reading Nerd Do Well. First of all, I can’t stop laughing. I laugh out loud at least once per page. The man has mad wit!

Secondly… Well, I think for this one I’m going to have to let his writing speak for itself. Here’s something I just read last night in a chapter entitled “That’s No Moon, It’s an Understatement”:

“If you didn’t already know, or haven’t guessed from my rambling, I studied film for a while. I relished being able to pick apart my favourite films as a student; it was amusing and fascinating all at the same time. Easily dismissed but powerfully persuasive when argued well, film theory seems from the outside like an awful lot of brainpower for something so inconsequential. During my studies I wrote a thesis entitled ‘Base and Supersucker: A Marxist Overview of Consent in Star Wars and Related Works’. In the most basic terms it was about how when we experience art without critical awareness we consent to the ideas being promoted, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the filmmaker.”

<Swoon!> A Marxist Overview of Consent in Star Wars?? I love it! And any person who challenges us to think critically about the art we consume is okay by me. More than okay. Also, I’m all for using a lot of brainpower for things that seem inconsequential.

I’ve used this chapter (almost halfway through the book) as an example, but the truth is that I was hooked and impressed long before I got to this. In fact, I was hooked by the time I got halfway through his North American Foreword. I think it’s because his wit is so deft that I was never quite sure if he was praising or making fun of Americans. He criticizes the shortcomings of Great Britain, but dammit, he does it with pride! So when he throws out some praise to North America, it makes the reader a little suspicious. He keeps you on your toes for sure.

Most of all, however, I love the way Simon Pegg writes with passion for his ideas, playfully about himself, and with a seeming joy in language itself.

Another Smart Writer I’ve been reading recently is Julian Barnes. I started with The Sense of An Ending, the praises of which I heard shouted from reviews and blogs everywhere. The reviews were not wrong. I loved the book so much I read the entire thing in one afternoon. Now I’m reading Talking It Over, and after that I have Arthur & George to sink my teeth into.

Barnes has the ability to get into the head of each unique character in his novels. Every word of every character’s dialogue or inner monologue is a perfect expression of that character’s own personal agony. This isn’t to imply that all of his characters are in agony. As humans we each tend to see ourselves at the center of our own universe, and as the “center of the universe” we agonize over the things we say and do; even when those things are done in joy or pleasure. Julian Barnes’ characters are a subtle expression of that exquisite agony.

And let us not forget Rainbow Rowell, author of Attachments, and the more recently published Eleanor & Park. Rowell writes about the everyman–the I.T. guy at the office, the headphone-wearing nerd on the bus, the snarky woman who works in marketing–but she gives these characters the delicious depth they deserve, the depth we all have, even if you’re a nerdy headphone wearing everyman. What’s further, she writes with a sensuality that will take your breath away. Reading a scene in Eleanor & Park in which the two main characters hold hands made me feel as if I had electricity running through my veins!

These are not the only Smart Writers, obviously; these are simply the ones I’m reading right now, who are making me fall in love with intelligent prose all over again. A few other Smart Writers I’m always pushing on people are:

  • A.S. Byatt
  • Anne Patchett
  • Dave Eggars

But I’m always looking for more! So if you have a favorite Smart Writer in your library that you’d like to recommend, please do. My TBR list is already too long to ever finish in my lifetime, but who cares. I plan to live forever.